As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

WH Offers Surveillance Docs To Senate Judiciary

This is both good news and bad news. The White House earlier demanded that no Congressional committee would see any relevant documents about warrantless surveillance until they agreed to grant immunity to the telecoms. Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter refused to mark up the bill without seeing the documents, and would not agree to the automatic immunity grant as a reward for seeing them. The White House backed down, and will provide the documents - but only to Leahy and Specter.

The White House has offered leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee access to legal documents related to the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program, senators said Thursday.

But Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said while the White House had offered the documents to both him and the panel’s ranking Republican, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, he was pushing for the entire committee to receive access to the documents. But he also said he would take advantage of the offer and review the documents.

Now, this is good news because the White House is on the defensive, and offering things beyond their initial demands - which the Congress could do all the time on any issue if they just held firm. In a few days, if Leahy rejects passing out the bill from committee without all of the members seeing the documents, the White House will back down.

This is bad news because the Intelligence Committee had the chance to review the documents and they still kept telecom immunity in the bill. They in part honored the deal in exchange for the documents, but few of them articulated actual problems with the program once they saw the documents, with the notable exception of Russ Feingold. The other problem is that everyone who you would worry about caving on this bill has connected telecom immunity to the lack of knowledge of the program. Steny Hoyer made a nice speech yesterday on the importance of restoring Constitutional government, wherein he said that the Congress would not give immunity to the telecoms without knowing what they did. In other words, you can reasonably assume that once he gets to know what they did, he may be fine with allowing them to have broken the law. Specter has framed the issue in this way as well.

So this slight concession by the White House means that this is happening faster than we imagined. That's Harry Reid's takeaway:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called the White House’s offer a “breakthrough.

“We’re going to get something done, and we need to do it before the end of this year,” Reid said.

Reid is making this all about "getting something done," rather than the relative merits of the bill. That's extremely worrisome.

All of this means that the urgency to contact everyone on the Judiciary Committee and tell them there must not be telecom immunity in the bill just got greater. Of course, there are members of the Intelligence Committee who are also on the Judiciary Committee, and we already know how they voted over there. Dianne Feinstein and Sheldon Whitehouse, I'm looking in your direction. Meaning that honoring the hold is just as important.

UPDATE: Chris Dodd's campaign has a citizen-generated whip count of members of the Judiciary Committee.

UPDATE II: Let it be known that the SJC has been asking for these docs for almost two years, with absolutely no success. Now, when tied to a bill that the WH really really wants, they relent partially, and what Leahy should learn is that they'll relent even more if he remains adamant about not reporting out the bill. This shows that the WH is desperate to move this thing forward with immunity. Now, whether that's just to protect some telecom buddies or that they've done something unspeakbly bad that we don't even know about yet, is the question.

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